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Sharper focus could bring back Lincoln

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Sharper focus could bring back Lincoln

I recently drove two new Lincoln models, the 2011 MKX and MKZ Hybrid. Both were competent, attractive and comfortable vehicles that got me thinking. Not about those vehicles in particular, but about Lincoln as a luxury brand.

My brain started churning over the thought, "What makes a Lincoln a Lincoln?" I certainly knew what Lincolns used to be. Depending on the decade, Lincolns were the refined mechanical creations of Henry Leland that stood in a class by themselves because of their engineering and quality; an elegant styling exercise of Henry Ford's only son; or the car JFK last rode in.

But as for what Lincoln stands for today, imagine an empty speech bubble above my head.

Sure, the MKX and MKZ Hybrid are nice cars, but nice cars do not a luxury brand make. This reality sparked another thought, "Does anyone outside of Dearborn consider Lincoln a luxury brand -- an equal of Mercedes-Benz or BMW?"

The question frames the challenge Ford Motor Co. faces as it strives to re-establish Lincoln as a luxury icon.

One thought became clear: Lincoln is a proud Detroit name that deserves a comeback plan.

There is precedent. Anybody remember the Cadillac Cimarron? That pitiful excuse for a luxury car exemplifies attempted-brand-suicide-by-arrogant-stupidity. The petite Cadillac invited scorn and ridicule with its laughable styling and pathetic performance, and helped cross GM off the shopping lists of a generation.

From disaster arose success

The 1970s and 80s were dark days for GM. But this low point caused change. The first fruits of the shift were the model-year 2000 CTS sedan and the second-generation Escalade. These sales successes were followed by the sporty (but less successful) XLR coupe and BMW-humbling V-Series high-performance editions.

Cadillac was back.

"Our turnaround started with a vision to recapture what the brand used to be, 'The Standard of The World,' " said Don Butler, Cadillac's marketing manager.

Cadillac took this seriously. Butler admits that his product line isn't where they want it to be, but the team continues to work the plan to effect serious change at GM's luxury division.

Importantly, the brand's recent success earned it the right to take some chances, including releasing the stunning CTS Coupe and CTS Sport Wagon.

"Luxury buyers want to be associated with companies that blaze new trails and set new standards. There's something to being an unquestioned leader," Butler said.

Nice? Sure, but ...

There's nothing industry leading about Lincoln at the moment. Competitive? Yes. Interesting? Moderately. Trail blazing? Not so much.

"This is a brand that needs to get its Luxe back. With the shift in the luxury away from conspicuous consumption, I see an opportunity," said Pam Danziger, an expert on luxury marketing. "The luxury Lincolns offer is more of a 'luxury on the inside' type as compared to extroverted 'bling.' With the economic crash, this kind of anti-status luxury is growing in popularity."

When asked about how long it could take Lincoln, Danziger replied, "There's no such thing as insta-luxe. Lincoln has a long history behind it, which is good, but they can't remake the brand overnight."

James Bell, Kelley Blue Book's executive market analyst, said Lincoln should focus on near-luxury buyers "because we see advanced growth in this important segment."

"As word gets out on how improved the latest Ford product is, Lincoln could be well-placed to pick up new share," he said.

And perhaps some of their lost mojo.

Let's hope that the team at Ford does its homework. There's room in Detroit for two luxury brands.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100916/OPINION03/9160371/1148/AUTO01/Sharper-focus-could-bring-back-Lincoln#ixzz0zhTcGBrz

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Buy into Mercury? Dealer did, for certified Lincolns

Arlena Sawyers

Automotive News -- September 20, 2010 - 12:01 am ET

Larry Taylor is living proof that dealers value automakers' certified used-vehicle programs.

Even before Ford Motor Co. said in June that it would kill Mercury, Taylor, a member of the Ford Lincoln Mercury National Dealer Council, was pretty sure the brand wasn't long for this world. But in May he took on a Lincoln-Mercury franchise anyway, to get access to certified used Lincolns.

"I want to sell new Lincolns, but the main reason I got it is I wanted to sell certified Lincolns," said Taylor, owner of what is now Beau Townsend Ford-Lincoln-Mercury in Vandalia, Ohio.

Through August, he had sold 703 certified Ford, Lincoln and Mercury cars and trucks, about 20 short of his Ford-only total at the same time last year.

Ford, which has been working for years to reduce its dealership roster, said in June that it would phase out Mercury by the end of this year. That spells the end for 1,712 Mercury franchises, including the one just acquired by Taylor.

No big deal, said Taylor, because the factory allowed him to dual Lincoln and Mercury with his Ford store. The new franchises helped him sell almost as many new vehicles last month as he did in August 2009, when the federal government's cash-for-clunkers program was going strong.

Taylor sold 140 new Ford and 14 new Lincoln and Mercury cars and trucks in August, just two short of the 156 new Fords he sold a year earlier.

"It's been a good investment," he said. "I have no extra expenses, no extra rent factor, no extra employees."

Taylor said he particularly likes selling certified used Lincolns because they are covered by Ford Motor's 72-month/100,000-mile warranty. The automaker also offers special finance rates on certified Lincolns from time to time. Those perks were unavailable to customers who bought late-model used Lincolns from him before he acquired the Lincoln-Mercury franchise.

Through September, Ford is offering qualified buyers 3.9 percent for up to 60 months on certain certified used Lincolns: Aviator, Navigator, Mark LT, Town Car, Zephyr, LS, MKS, MKT and MKZ.

In August, Ford brand U.S. dealers sold 9,290 certified used vehicles, down 3 percent from August 2009. Sales of certified Lincoln and Mercury vehicles fell 9 percent to 1,509.

Through August, Ford brand dealers sold 78,157 certified vehicles, down 4 percent from the year-earlier period. In the same period, Lincoln and Mercury certified sales were down 7 percent to 13,223.

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100920/RETAIL07/309209988/1433#ixzz105yA1Cfu

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Lincoln needs major changes to compete in luxury market

BY MARK PHELAN

FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

Looking on the bright side, Ford may be able to fix Lincoln in less than the 45 years it took Volkswagen to turn Audi into a credible luxury brand.

Seriously. That's the bright side. The worst-case scenario is that Ford has no idea what it got into when it committed to making Lincoln a top-shelf luxury brand.

If Ford doesn't comprehend the scope of the challenge, it doesn't have a ghost of a chance of succeeding.

Ford's promise to give Lincoln a world-class lineup is a welcome change. For years, the brand amounted to little more than Fords gussied up with more chrome, better leather and glossier paint.

Lincoln didn't need to be very good -- and it wasn't -- because Ford could count on Mercury for a couple of hundred thousand sales a year. Combined, the brands made money.

When Mercury closes at the end of this year, Lincoln will have to pull more weight. It must sell more vehicles and charge higher prices. Doing that will take more than the "Ford-plus" formula, but it's not clear Ford's leaders understand that.

Every successful luxury brand has unique styling, technology and powertrains. Not every model has all those characteristics, but offering at least some is the cost of doing business. Without them, you don't get a seat at the grown-ups' table with Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Infiniti, Lexus and Mercedes.

General Motors reinvented Cadillac by developing a platform specifically to challenge BMW and Mercedes' technology, handling and comfort. Cadillac's renaissance cost billions. It's taken more than a decade, and it's still a work in progress.

GM is now trying to push Buick upmarket -- but not as far upmarket as Cadillac is or Lincoln aspires to be. Buick will use the engineering and design strength of GM's European and Chinese units as it develops a new, more contemporary and luxurious model line.

Lincoln looks badly under-resourced by comparison. There's no unique platform coming to provide sport-sedan handling and performance. It has no profitable or high-volume brands in Europe and Asia to lean on.

Lincoln will soon have its own product development team, however. It'll be the first time in decades a core group of engineers, designers and product planners is responsible for Lincoln and nothing else.

That's good, but they will need sufficient tools and money to succeed.

Ford plans to use its global platforms to develop a family of Lincolns that look nothing like their counterparts in the Ford showroom. Executives cite the Lincoln MKS sedan and MKT crossover as present-day examples of this strategy.

Luxury is more than skin deep, however. The MKS isn't close to competitive with similar-sized luxury sedans from Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Lexus and Mercedes. It takes more than a different body to make a Lincoln that can run with the big dogs. Basic platform characteristics like weight distribution are key. Ask Audi, which finally got it right with the A4, or Acura, which hasn't and continues to struggle.

Lincoln's smaller MKX crossover -- don't get me started on how awful Lincoln's model names are -- illustrates the brand's other challenge.

The MKX's platform is nearly a match for competitors like the Audi Q5, Cadillac SRX and Lexus RX. However, it not only looks too much like the Ford Edge, its features are nearly identical. The MKX's key new interior feature, the MyLincolnTouch control panel, works and looks nearly just like MyFordTouch in the Edge.

Lincoln's move into the luxury market is doomed unless Ford allows Tobin's team to create vehicles that cannot be mistaken for Fords -- from the inside, outside or behind the wheel.

link:

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100920/COL14/9200394/1331/business01/Lincoln-needs-major-changes-to-compete-in-luxury-market&template=fullarticle

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